A former student of mine graduated a little while ago and landed an excellent industrial job, which was his intention all along. Getting a PhD and then moving to industry is a common path envisioned by many students in my field, especially international ones. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to get an advanced degree and get a well-paid, highly specialized industrial job. But, in hindsight, this particular student only wanted to put in the time, be told what to do, and at the end of the day receive his degree and move on. I wish he were alone in this attitude, but I find it's fairly common.
One colleague of mine, with whose advising style I really disagree, brings armies of grad students from his home country, has them work very long hours and gather lots of data, and has them graduate in fewer years than the average. I don't think they get much, if any, training in writing papers or presenting. But, they receive training in a few advanced lab techniques and easily get jobs in industry.
I spend a lot of time teaching each student how to write papers, listening to their practice talks as I send them to present their work at international conferences... And you know what? There are some, like the former student, on whom all that appears to be wasted. He has probably given about 15 talks while in my group, and, despite multiple dry runs before every appearance, his talks are still below average. He has published several journal papers (I think about 5-6) and writing each one of them with him was like pulling teeth, down to the very last one.
What was the point of giving this student what I consider proper PhD training? I invested a lot of energy in it, it didn't take. I trained him as I would have someone who actually wanted to learn how to do and present science, which I believe is what we should do for all our students. But, he just wanted to put in the time and get a degree, so he could get a job. He could have gotten what he wanted while working for my colleague above or someone similar, it would have taken him less time overall.
We all want students who are intrinsically motivated. I have been fortunate to have worked (still do) with students who were curious, focused, who took pride in their work and were eager to write papers and go to conferences, and who did creative, cutting-edge work for their PhDs. Most of them went on to get industrial jobs, so that in and of itself doesn't preclude a proper attitude towards a PhD.
But with this former student, he mentally checked out about 2 years before he graduated. I had a hard time getting him to do much of anything properly. We were ahead of the pack on a really interesting project, but he dragged his feet and did who knows what, and several groups scooped us. I have recently been working on the last paper from his thesis, and it was extremely frustrating how many details were missing or were sloppily derived or coded and ended up plainly incorrect.
As I wrote before, since I am in a field without rotations for incoming students and my department has few TA-ships available to them, new students commonly join a group sight unseen; sometimes things work out, sometimes they don't. However, my policy is that if I am going to let a student go, I usually tell them it's not working out as soon as I am sure, but I keep them on until they get their Master's so they have something to show for the time with my group. But if the student stays on past the MS, then I am committed to getting them to graduate with a PhD.
So what do you do if the student totally checks out mentally in year 4 on the PhD?We have had talks and talks, but to no avail. I could not get through to him. I wasn't going to fire him, and reducing salary is pretty cruel considering graduate students are not exactly rich. Still, those student stipends are not charity. That's federal money and it comes with strings attached. Science is supposed to be done in exchange for it. Doing shoddy work hurts the project and can result in real damage to the future funding prospects of the whole research group with the funding agency and/or manager.
Regardless of what a student plans on doing after they graduate, they should have a good attitude while on the PhD. This means that they should be ready to do science and behave as scientists in training for a few years, even if they have no intentions of being scientists later on. For the students who come in just wanting to plow through to an advanced degree without straining a dendrite along the way, realistically the right thing to do would be to get the course option for a Master's degree. A PhD, however, is a research degree, and requires the mindset needed to do research, at least temporarily.
As PhD advisors as well as research project PIs, we have the sometimes competing obligations to the student and the project/own group. So what means do we have to motivate the students who are not intrinsically motivated? Especially if the motivation drops considerably after the student has put in several years already and you are committed to getting them through?